One of the most frequent questions our clients ask is “What is good UX?” and “How can I improve my UX design?
Bad user experience (UX) design is something that everyone can spot.
When you stumble upon a poorly designed product, it’s immediately obvious that something isn’t working – but it’s not always as easy to know why.
This is especially true when you’re the one creating it. When you know how something is supposed to work it is hard to imagine how all of the different ways users will interact with it.
That’s where UX best practice comes into play. If you follow a set of tried and tested rules, you’re less likely to make mistakes.
There are so many pieces of UX best practices that I wish the world would follow, it was really hard to narrow it down to my top five, but I’ve done it!
Five Tips For Better UX
- Answer the three questions
- Be consistent
- Follow your brand guidelines
- Test your work
- Design with cognitive load in mind
1. Answer the three questions
When a user lands in a new area of your app or product for the first time, they immediately (and unknowingly) demand answers to three key questions. If any are unanswered, this leads to confusion, frustration, and sometimes quitting and never coming back.
The three questions [ref1] are incredibly simple:
Where am I?
When navigating to an unfamiliar area for the first time, the user’s first question will be “Where am I?”. This should be answered quickly, and hopefully at first glance. The answer could come in the form of a well-labelled page heading, self-explanatory content, or potentially an onboarding experience for that section.
What can I do here?
Okay, so we know where we are now. What’s the point of being here? What actions can I take? These should also be self-evident, as all interactive items should be clearly defined using the visual language of your product. Is there a button I can press? Content I can read? It should look like it, and I should be able to find it fast.
How do I move forward?
I know where I am, I know what I can do and I’ve done all of it that I want to for now. What’s next? Ensuring that your product answers this question from every point is the key to keeping users from exiting the product after using only a small part of it. The way forward should be clearly identifiable (as always, at a glance) and appealing.
2. Be consistent
I’m sure we’ve all come across the stereotypical designer’s nightmare – picture this, it’s 1998 and you’re shopping for shoes online. You click on a search result and (probably after a long loading time) you’re bombarded with animating shoes, colour splashed around the page, ten pop-ups, and about thirty buttons of many styles. Your attention is pulled in every direction around the busy screen, you rush your rollerball mouse to the close button in disgust.
Let your product be anything like this imaginary website.
We can prevent this kind of design nightmare by establishing a visual language and using it… that’s right, consistently. On your website or app, buttons look one way. Perhaps there’s a call to action button and a secondary action button, but those are the only two styles. You’ve chosen a bold heading font style and size, and a smaller regular body font. Brand guidelines are followed to the letter. This brings me to my next point…
3. Follow your brand guidelines
It can be tempting to swap in a colour here or there or use different fonts and visual styling for different products, but it’s important that you don’t diverge. After all, they were painstakingly created for a reason! Establishing a visual language for your brand across everything that you do will separate you from the amateurs.
Following brand guidelines helps establish trust when a user sees something from you for the first time. For example, if your use has seen your website where the brand guidelines are followed exactly, then gets an email from you with completely different colours and fonts, alarm bells will go off. They will be highly unlikely to trust that it’s actually from you and likely mark it as spam. By being consistent we can give users a sense of familiarity and therefore security.
4. Test your work
One of the mantras of UX design is “the user is not you”. This is repeated in an attempt to beat the False Consensus Effect, which was first defined by psychologists Ross, Greene, and House in 1977.
“The false-consensus effect refers to people’s tendency to assume that others share their beliefs and will behave similarly in a given context. Only people who are very different from them would make different choices.” [ref2]
So how do we beat the effect and ensure we’re creating the right thing for our users? We test early, and as often as possible. User testing is invaluable, and will give valuable insight into a product design.
Don’t rely on your personal experiences and opinions alone.
5.Design with cognitive load in mind
The human brain has a limited amount of processing power.
“Short-term memory famously holds only about 7 “chunks” of information, and these fade from your brain in about 20 seconds.” [ref3]
This doesn’t necessarily mean that all content must be limited to seven or so items per page, just when we expect users to remember. A good design example that caters to cognitive load is links – this is exactly why we change their colour after they’ve been clicked.
Another way to minimise cognitive load is not to rely on icons alone to guide the user. This plays into one of the three questions mentioned above (“What can I do here?”), and general accessibility best practice. By labelling our icons, we keep ourselves from forcing the user to remember what they do from image alone, and prevents a lot of clicking just to figure out where a button will go.
Response time must be fast, so the user doesn’t forget what they were doing before a page loads. This is the design equivalent of walking into the kitchen to grab a book from the table and coming back with no book and a snack. We’re easily distractible creatures.
Overload your designs with huge amounts of information. Simplify and break everything up into manageable pieces.
So, there you have it, my five top tips for UX design. It was difficult to narrow the list down, but if your new product happens to follow all of these, I think, it’s got a fighting chance.
Speaking of your next product, do you have an idea that needs some exploration before it might be ready for development? If so, a Discovery Workshop might be for you, and lucky for you, we’re scheduling free two-hour sessions! Check it out, and I hope to work with you and your team soon.
Laurel Gattenby specialises in User Interface and User Experience design for digital products. She has worked on projects for consumer, business, and the public sector. She has studied psychology and has a degree in computer arts.
1 David Pasztor. 2016. “The Three Questions” Product Design. 98-100.
2 L. Ross, D. Greene, P. House. 1977. The “False Consensus Effect”: An Egocentric Bias in Social Perception and Attribution Processes. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology.
3 Miller, G. A. (1956). “The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information”. Psychological Review. 63 (2): 81–97. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.308.8071. doi:10.1037/h0043158. PMID 13310704.